The Grateful Dead are a divisive band. Ideologically the group have a ubiquitous appeal; free-spirited, perpetually creative and always championing the health of mind and soul over one’s body. It’s when the band laid these values down across a mammoth spiralling jam session that the division begins.
Chances are you either love the Dead’s iconic jam sessions or you hate them. You’re either transported to another world, joined in the alternate dimension by Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and the gang, or you’ve already left this article. Below we’re looking back at the band’s longest ever jam.
The Grateful Dead may well be your dad’s favourite stoner band but they’re so much more than the tie-dye dreams the internet suggests they were. No, above all else, the Dead were superb musicians, inspired by the greats of jazz. In fact, they’d fit in rather well with Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew era. It was this inspiration that encouraged their most noble endeavour—the jam session.
Alongside artists like Pink Floyd and later Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead were a band who championed the jam session. Like many of their counterculture contemporaries, the Dead actively encouraged their audience to get lost with them as they extended their songs and their entire sets by hours, following the ethereal pattern of the music. Unlike their contemporaries, the Dead never followed a structure.
The group believed that a “jam” was just that, a place for people to get together and try out some new sound. So forget all those videos you’ve seen of Neil Young or Paul McCartney orchestrating a near note-perfect ensemble of musicians, The Grateful Dead were all about authenticity.
It also allowed for the band to truly lose themselves in the music, often nearing an hour to find themselves again. One of the band’s longest jams was on ‘Dark Star’. The 1968 track is given a huge 48 minutes of exploration during this outing in Rotterdam in 1972. It sees the band in imperious form.
Written by Robert Hunter, the track marked the band as ones to watch during their incendiary beginnings in the house parties of San Francisco. It also allowed the group to really let go like this performance will show.
It proves, all 48 minutes of it, that The Grateful Dead were a band like no other. It also authenticates them as the world’s greatest “jam” band.